- Texas man arrested for powder-letter hoax
- Islamic State opens ‘marriage bureau’ for single jihadists
- Drone almost blocks California firefighting planes
- Tornado rips off roofs, downs trees near Boston
- GOP: Environmental rules keeping agents from accessing border
- John Kerry: Millions displaced by religious fighting in 2013
- Federal appeals court rules against Virginia’s gay marriage ban
- White House says Russia ‘losing’ war in Ukraine
- Hamas turns to North Korea for weapons deal, Iran for money
- Syrian casualties surge as jihadis consolidate
EDITORIAL: Pay to play with AGs
Question of the Day
Pay-to-play politics are penetrating state attorney general’s offices, with aggressive plaintiffs’ lawyers on the make for state-sponsored jackpots. To combat these dubious practices, the American Tort Reform Association developed a set of principles that should govern outside contracting by state AGs. A new ATRA report card alerts that most AGs aren’t meeting those ethical standards.
The proposed guidelines amount to basic, common-sensical standards of good government. The recommendations include posting on the Internet every contract with state-hired outside counsel; ensuring attorneys general make “every effort” to find the best-value contractors; and instituting third-party government review of contingent, fee-based contracts. To reinforce the idea that attorneys general are supposed to be serving taxpayer interests, not lawyers’ greed, ATRA suggests that AGs deposit all state lawsuit proceeds over $250,000 into state treasuries.
It’s disturbing that most states don’t have laws that cover at least some of these simple requirements already. Either way, the public can be forgiven for expecting that AGs might be guided by personal integrity to abide by these standards anyway - but most aren’t. The ATRA report gives the states a cumulative, median grade of D-plus, and with good reason.
Examples of questionable activity abound. For instance, in her 2002 re-election campaign, then-New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid got more than $230,000 of her $840,000-plus in campaign money from plaintiffs’ lawyers. The Albuquerque-based law firm Eaves, Bardacke, Baugh, Kierst & Kiernan - whose attorneys donated $22,000 to Ms. Madrid’s campaigns - was awarded an interstate water litigation contract worth up to $500,000.
In his 1998 and 2002 campaigns, former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer received from plaintiffs’ attorneys nearly $1.9 million in campaign donations, which was more than 7 percent of the total funds he raised. In 2003, Mr. Lockyer announced a settlement of more than $1.6 billion in a case he brought against natural gas company El Paso Corp., supposedly for its inflation of natural-gas prices during California’s 2000-2001 energy crisis. The payout to outside counsel was as high as $60 million. That buys a lot of pinstriped suits.
In October, the Alabama Supreme Court dealt a long-overdue blow to Attorney General Troy King when it threw out jury decisions awarding the state hundreds of millions of dollars from more than 70 pharmaceutical firms in a price-gouging suit. In 2006, an outside hire on the case, trial lawyer Jere Beasley, and his wife donated a total of $50,000 in one day to four separate political action committees all officially chaired by Montgomery lobbyist Johnny Crawford. The same day, a fifth Crawford PAC donated $50,000 to Mr. King’s campaign. Mr. Beasley stood to make a sizable chunk from the settlement in the drug company suit.
These deals technically may be within the boundaries of the law, but they give the appearance of impropriety. Voters elect state attorneys general, not private lawyers looking to get rich. The people’s interests aren’t being served when taxpayers can’t tell if their elected officials are working for them or special interests.
About the Author
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Time for some policy 'pars' from golfer-in-chief
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Texas law is making women safer
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Redskins partnership is a win-win
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: No taxpayer funds for illegals
- EDITORIAL: The two faces of Mark Warner
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
By David Keene
Allowing states to innovate could reduce dependency on bureaucracy
Get Breaking Alerts
- D.C. seeks to stay judge's order allowing gun owners to carry in public
- Hillary Clinton: Forget Obama, George W. Bush made her 'proud to be an American'
- Illegal immigrants demand representation in White House meetings
- Iraqi Christians rally at White House: 'Obama, Obama, where are you?'
- Border surge puts Obama legacy on immigration at stake
- Tennessee Gov. Haslam slams White House for secret dump of illegals in his state
- Romney would win popular vote in rematch against Obama: CNN poll
- Babson College, BYU win top spots in Money magazine's college rankings
- White House says Russia 'losing' war in Ukraine
- D.C. plans to seek stay of order striking down ban on handguns in public